Deadly 7.4 Earthquake, over 800 Injured, Death Toll Growing

A powerful earthquake struck Taiwan early Wednesday, resulting in nine fatalities and injuring hundreds. The quake, which had its epicenter in the mountainous and sparsely populated eastern county of Hualien, also led to the collapse of numerous buildings, particularly in the southern city of Hualien. The tremor triggered a brief tsunami warning for southern Japanese islands.

The Taiwanese fire department confirmed the death toll, adding that over 800 people were injured in the incident. Authorities also reported losing contact with 50 individuals who were traveling on four minibuses towards a hotel located in a national park. The quake led to the collapse of at least 26 buildings, trapping nearly 80 people as rescue operations continued.

The majority of the collapsed structures were in Hualien city, where approximately 60 people were trapped in a tunnel just north of the city. Fire authorities were gradually evacuating those trapped in the tunnel.

Social media was flooded with videos and images of buildings knocked off their foundations. A five-story building in Hualien was severely damaged, with its first floor collapsed and the remaining structure leaning at a 45-degree angle. In Taipei, the capital city, tiles fell from older buildings and some newer office complexes.

The U.S. Geological Survey rated the earthquake, which had a depth of 9.6 miles, at a magnitude of 7.4. Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency, however, gave it a magnitude of 7.2. The quake’s effects were felt as far as Kinmen, a Taiwanese-controlled island off the coast of China, according to Wu Chien-fu, the head of Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring bureau. Several aftershocks were recorded, with one measuring a magnitude of 6.5 and a depth of 7.8 miles.

A tsunami warning was briefly issued for coastal areas of southwestern Japan’s Miyakojima and Yaeyama regions and the main island of Okinawa. A tsunami wave about 1 ft. high was detected on the coast of Yonaguni island approximately 15 minutes after the quake. The warning was later downgraded to an advisory before being lifted.

Train services across the island, home to 23 million people, were suspended. However, in Taipei, life seemed to carry on as usual with children going to school and the morning commute appearing normal.

The U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center initially reviewed the earthquake to determine if a tsunami was a threat to the West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia. However, they later confirmed that a tsunami was not expected. Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency also stated there was no tsunami threat to the state.

This quake is believed to be the most significant in Taiwan since 1999 when a temblor caused extensive damage. Taiwan is situated along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a line of seismic faults encircling the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur.